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In the Pacific, the Navy is conducting an exercise that integrates unmanned and manned systems using artificial intelligence to control vehicles below, at, and above sea level. This exercise is known as the Fleet Unmanned Battle Problem 21 (IBP21) and is being conducted in San Diego. IBP21 is the first of it’s kind, while it’s true that autonomous vessel training has been done before, it has not been done paired with crewed ships.

The Navy is presenting this new hybrid structure as a major step toward new “unmatched” capabilities.“We are not yet where we want to be,” said Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, chief of naval research. “But we are getting closer. As our potential adversaries go all-in on unmanned platforms, we must and will maintain a dominant force that can meet and defeat any challenge.”

Some of Congress is supporting the Navy in this transition to a networked force of unmanned and manned systems, both others are skeptical. When the Navy released its unmanned “Campaign Framework” in March it was received to mixed reviews. Retired naval officer Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., saying it lacked needed detail.

“I am not alone as a member of Congress who really doesn’t understand where the Navy is going with this,” she said in the March hearing.

Despite this, the Navy has propelled forward with their plans, stating that it will continue to develop and test the technology and strategies behind using more unmanned systems in the fleet.

“Our goal is to operationally integrate and continuously improve the types of intelligent and autonomous technologies that Pacific Fleet is testing right now,” said Jason Stack, Office of Naval Research’s technical director and autonomy lead. “We will do this ethically and responsibly by always ensuring our Sailors and Marines can exercise the appropriate levels of human judgement over our machines. This will be our enduring competitive advantage.”

The test event includes medium displacement unmanned surface vehicles (MDUSV) and long-endurance unmanned aeural systems (UAS). These platforms can be used for a variety of things including, surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and other missions, according to the Navy.

One of the MDUSV’s used is called the “Sea Hunter,” which made a self-piloted trip all the way from San Diego to Hawaii back in 2019. The Navy said, other systems, including aerial ones, will be included in the network of systems.

All of the military’s testing of autonomous systems is rooted in its new operational construct, Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). This is a new way of approaching warfare where instead of siloed commands with decisions being made at individual service levels, the forces of the military are combined through an Internet of Things capability. Leaders hope the technology will allow communications and the command and control of forces to integrate and use real-time data.